The Betty Mitchell Story
I was not raised in a Christian home in Cass Lake, Minnesota, but my mother who had some Christian teaching f rom her grandmother, raised her 10 children with many Biblical principles. But none of us attended Sunday school or church. The sister of the Alliance pastor’s wife in Cass Lake lived with them. She became one of my best friends while I was in high school and so I was often in their home.
I always felt there was something so different in that home-so peaceful and that they cared about me. But because my father was out of work it became necessary for us to move.
He built a “houselike” structure on the bed of an old truck and loaded our belongings in the back part. ln front of the partition that held our belongings in place, my oldest sister and I fixed up a little room for seven of us children and my great aunt, plus two canaries and three goldfish. We put a box under the truck bed for our mother dog and her three pups! My mother sat in front with my father. We took off for Bly, Oregon, where my father, two older brothers, and oldest sister found work. What a sight that must have been when we unloaded in Bly!
About three years later the Alliance pastor from Cass Lake moved to Bly, Oregon, and started an Alliance church. Many in our family came to the Lord under his anointed ministry. What changes in our home when all ten children and my mother now desired to live for Him!
God’s Word became extremely important to me. I wanted to learn all I could. Right away I had a strong desire to share with others the love of Christ. I started a children’s Bible class in the home of a black family.
ln my zeal to share Christ I often got in trouble. I would ask people if they were Christians, and they would get upset because they thought they were. I would say, “Oh, I didn’t know you were, you never told me!” I guess I was so excited I thought Christians should always be sharing the gospel, and yet for so many years no one had shared with me. God was showing me I needed to share the Good News. When I heard a missionary speak for the first time I realized there were many people around the world who had never had a chance to hear of Christ even once!
Missions became a very important part of the junior girls class I was teaching. My youngest sister was in this class and God spoke to her about being a missionary. Her testimony of that call really made me wonder if God was speaking to me too about the other sheep that needed to hear? Could He use me as a missionary? Was the Lord instructing me to go into all the world to spread the Good News? If so, I needed to study His Word.
I immediately left for Simpson in January 1945. I did not even wait for the beginning of a new school year. Before that semester ended a very unusual thing took place. It was during World War ll, and three of my brothers were in the service. Because of the fighting families at any time could expect news of tragedy to those on the front lines. One evening I received a call from Bly saying my youngest brother and sister had been killed in an explosion. The shock was so great I did not wait to hear more. I just said, “l’m coming home” and hung up the phone. God did provide a way for both my sister and me to return to Bly. We were further shocked to learn that not only our brother and sister were killed, but three other children and the wife of the young pastor who had just come to serve the Alliance church in Bly.
Only the pastor in the group had been spared from the explosion of the Japanese balloon bomb on May 5, 1945. Not many people knew there had been numbers of these coming over from Japan, and that this was the only one in the United States that exploded and killed people.
Through this tragedy God confirmed to me I was to “go” and take my sister’s place as a missionary! I said “yes” to the Lord and applied to The Christian and Missionary Alliance for overseas service.
When I stood before that Missions Committee answering their questions. They asked if I planned to be a missionary as a single person. I said I did. I had gone with some fellows, but they had no desire to be missionaries so I did not continue going with them. Our goals in life were different. But within a few months I started to go with Archie Mitchell, the pastor who had lost his wife in that bomb explosion. We were married in June 1947 and were assigned in December of that same year to sail for French lndo-China. The part we worked in is now called Vietnam. It was so exciting with so many new things for new missionaries to learn. We learned that when God puts forth His sheep He goes before them.
We knew the Lord was with us in the many changes that took place that first term. First was French language study (in French lndo-China). Before that study was completed our first child, Becki, was born and we were told we were to go to Hanoi to study Vietnamese. Off we went.
Soon we were nicely settled singing tonal language and getting to know people. But soon we had another change! We were assigned back to Dalat, where we were asked to be auntie and uncle to the missionary children. At Dalat Loretta, our second daughter, was born before it was time for our first furlough. Glenn was born while in the States.
For our second term we returned to Dalat School with our three children. We had many happy years there caring for the MKs (missionary kids). They are special. A number of these children are now in full-time service for the Lord and I praise the Lord for the little input we had in caring for them while they were away from their own parents.
Our youngest daughter, Geraldine, was born during this term. Over and over I thank God for that term where we as a family were drawn so close together. Little did we know what was ahead for us in our third term.
As we returned in March 1962 we were given a new assignment. We would be at the Banmethuot Leprosarium studying the Rade language. Archie would serve as director of the leprosarium. Our three older children would return to the school in Dalat.
We were excited for this meant we would soon be working full-time with the tribal people in the Banmethuot area. We had learned to love the Koho people around Dalat and could anticipate a fruitful ministry.
Our outfit arrived and we unpacked. I had made curtains and Archie had helped me put them up. We wanted the house all ready when our three older children returned from Dalat School to their new home in the jungle. Geraldine loved the jungle experience and we knew the others would too. The children liked to hear the gibbon monkeys calling each morning and in the late afternoon the cicadas would start their choir. The many different jungle sounds were fascinating. But all this was changed so quickly shortly after the children arrived home.
One night Gerry fell asleep. I was busy putting her to bed while Archie was having devotions with the other children. We heard noises outside and before we knew it men were slashing our screen and making their way into our house. They immediately grabbed Archie, took him outside and tied him up. He was being led away when we were brought out of the house. All we could do was call out to him, “We’ll be praying for you, Daddy dear.”
They also took two others-Dr. Ardel Vietti, and Dan Gerber who was teaching our patients about animal husbandry.
I begged them to let me get my daughter who was sleeping, but I was not allowed. Instead they led me and my children over to another part of the leprosarium and told us to sit down on the ground with the four nurses and wait.
This was the most trying time of my life seeing my husband tied and led off like that, not knowing when we would see him again and not knowing what might happen to Gerry alone in the house!
As the three children huddled around me, we started praying and then singing. I only remember one of the songs, “God knows the way through the wilderness, all we have to do is follow.”
After an hour or so the Communist leaders lectured us. We were told we could stay there that night, but were to leave the next day. They said I could return to my house. What a mess it was, but Gerry was safe I Thank You Father! All of our books were in a heap in the middle of our living room. On top of them was my Bible opened to Zechariah g:12. The very first words I read were, “Ye prisoners of hope, even today do I declare I shall render double unto thee.” As I finished reading that page it ended with Zechariah 10:12 which said, “l will strength- en them in the Lord and they shall walk up and down in my name saith the Lord.” No one buy God could have chosen these verses to comfort me and my children that night! Even the children understood that God was showing us how Daddy was a prisoner of hope, not a Communist prisoner.
Though God gave me these verses I would not be telling the truth if I said I never feared. Fear did come into my heart. I know fear is real, is it not? We all face it at times. The greatest fear was for my children. Even after we left the leprosarium and were in Banmethuot they would say, “Mom, what if the Communists come back to take you?”
“No,” I would say, “Don’t worry! They don’t want me or they would have taken me with Daddy.”
That would comfort them and they would go off to sleep. But I did not sleep. I would wonder, “Are my children really happy here or do they hate being kept here? Maybe they will hate these people we are working with or hate me for making the decision to stay.” I started fearing this would happen.
But again the Lord brought me comfort. I found in the Word many verses on fear, but two really jumped out to me. First John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear” and Second Timothy 1:7 “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.”
In both of these verses I saw not only the word fear but love too. This was what I needed and what I cried out to God for that night. His love seemed to flood my heart. All praise to Him-those fears left me. What release!
I was able even to thank God in the midst of pain and distress and reach out to those around me who needed to be delivered from fears too. When living in fear, we cannot be a help to others.
My relationship to the tribal people around Banmethuot now changed. Before they would say, “You don’t really understand us, because you are Americans and can leave when things are difficult. We can’t. This is our country, we must stay and suffer all these persecutions from the Communists.” Now they knew I understood some of those hardships and I was accepted. They even invited me to wear their tribal dress (the long black sarong skirt and blouse).
It was such a joy to be able to share His love in their language and see lives changed as they received that love. Many of those people could not read or write, but they could understand His love.
One dear lady told me, “You know why I started listening to you?” “No,” I said. “Well,” she told me, “l was watching you and I saw how faithfully you came to our village, even in the rains and your car slid in the ditch. So I thought this must be something very important you had to share. So I came to hear and I saw God’s love. He lives in me too now.” Praise Him! God even used my sliding in a muddy ditch to speak to a heart.
God opened the way through a Christian teacher for some of us to start Bible studies in the big government school in Banmethuot. This was a great opportunity to reach children from villages where we could not go. Many children received Christ as Savior. We would encourage them right away to share before their peers what they had done. Those who did and were not ashamed of Him were the ones who stood more faithfully for Him. Some even would ask to take the flashcard stories to their villages to share with their families and friends. A number of little groups of believers were started through these students’witness.
After the revival in the early’70’s, Sunday afternoons were always set aside for witnessing. We would meet at the church for prayer then divide into groups. Many times there would be as many as nine groups. One group was always left at the church to pray for those of us going out to villages around Banmethuot.
At the evening service, one person from each group would share what had happened. There were times of difficulties and persecution, but always times of rejoicing because His Word was being shared. Almost every week there would be someone who had prayed for salvation.
Because of the revival fires in our area there were more students in Banmethuot training to become pastors at the Bible school. This was a very challenging job. lt was so great to be a little part in training tribal pastors so they would be better prepared to be His witnesses and workers in their villages or wherever He called them to go.
Sending your children away to a missionary school is often difficult but Archie and I had settled all this before we even left for the field. We knew proper schooling was very important, and we trusted God to send the teachers and staff He knew would do the best job at Dalat School. I guess for me it was harder after Archie was taken and my youngest child left. But I looked forward to the happy times we would have together when the children were home. During the children’s vacations I would plan to visit and encourage believers because the children loved going to the different villages. I wanted by children to be a part of His work too and to love these people. They really did and looked forward to being home in Banmethuot.
Christmastime was especially unique. It was celebrating His birthday! Everything centered around Christ and His people-the church! Often we would be attending Christmas services for a month, as we would go from village to village. There would always be feasting together while sitting around mats spread out on the lawn. The one thing my children always enjoyed was “dio hlam ding,” sticky rice cooked in a piece of bamboo. You could peel the bamboo off like a banana skin and dip it in their hot pepper sauce-yum my!
One Sunday morning in March 1975, as I returned from a village I was told Banmethuot would be attacked that night! We often would hear reports similar to this, but this was different! While at the evening service there were men in jeeps going through town telling everyone to return to their homes and stay home until the all-clear signal was given.
It was hard to say goodbye to all our dear friends there at church. I was still thinking the Communists could not really take Banmethuot.
The missionaries came to my house to decide what they should do; stay together, go to our own homes or to the home of an embassy official where there was a good bunker. We decided to stay in our own homes but have things ready to grab in case we had to leave quickly to go to the bunker in town.
After reading Psalm 91 and praying for one another we all left. We were under the shadow of the Almighty!
I know I did not sleep that night. I tried to think what I should take if I was going to be a prisoner. I decided I would take all my money, something to write on, pens and a Bible. Not my camera or tape recorder-they would take those things from us more than likely. Oh yes, a flashlight, soap, comb and nail clippers should be packed. Strange the things that came to my mind.
I did pack that night and the attack did start. The lights were cut immediately and there was lots of incoming firing. Very noisy. I sat on the floor in the hall beside an 83-year-old Vietnamese lady I had been caring for in case she woke up. How she slept through it all I will never know. But I was glad, for I did not know what to tell her.
Early in the morning all the noise seemed to stop. But I knew what that meant: the ground troops would start coming in. At that time a faithf ul Rade pastor came to my house and told me to leave Grandmother. He said he would take care of Ba Tu, the Vietnamese lady. I gave him my house and car keys and told him to take whatever he wanted.
All of the missionaries left for the bunker in town. I knew Banmethuot had fallen into the hands of the Communists before the day was over, because we had a radio set in the bunker. Through the radio we were able to establish contact with a U.S. plane to let them know our names. Every hour or two the plane would contact us to see if we were still okay. I knew we would either be captured or die there from a direct hit by a rocket or bomb.
That night while in the bunker I was able to sleep. Psalm 4:8 was brought to my mind. I read it, “l will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.” Praise Him! Whether on the ground, a board, split bamboo or a straw mat I quoted that verse many times as I slept in the next eight months. Thank You, Father, how faithfully You care for Your own!
It was Wednesday noon when the Communists found us. We were told to come out with our hands up and only one item. I had a stuffed bag on my shoulder, but in my upraised hands I had my Bible. As I looked at the row of soldiers with their guns pointed at us there was no fear. God, with all praise to Him, had taught me 13 years before about fear and love to prepare me for this time.
My thoughts were, “You are the prisoners really-imprisoned in Communism. But I have the freedom of Christ.” As we sat waiting for the soldiers to decide what to do with us I opened my Bible. God directed me to Philippians 2:15, “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.” Yes, Lord, this is what You want me to be: a light to these who are in darkness. During my eight months of imprisonment I was taken from place to place. God provided time to share His love with some of the Communist leaders-praise Him!
There were many trying times. Often I would think of my children and pray they would know I was safe under His wings. I could not tell them, only He could-and He did!A lot of prisoners came down with malaria. I did too and could not keep anything down. But my dear fellow missionaries anointed and prayed for me. lt was that day I was able to keep food down for the first time in days.
My biggest disappointment was that I did not see my dear husband. I was sure when they took us up to Hanoi, and since they must take all prisoners north, I thought Archie would be there too. I believe Archie is somewhere in the north. I continue even now to believe this, even though I have not heard from him since he was taken in 1962. I will hope continually and yet praise Him more and more (Psalm 71:14).
God answered the prayers of many believers around the world and on October 30, 1975, we were released! What a joy to meet my daughter Gerry and many other dear friends who came to Bangkok to welcome us back to freedom! Free yes, but there is a purpose f or everything that comes into our lives. I think of Second Corinthians 1 :3-4. The Lord takes us through testings and trials and comforts us so that we can comfort and reach out to others with that comfort He comforted us with.
Lord, what is the next step in my life? To Dalat School for missionary children as dietician! It did not sound too much like missionary work after what I had been doing. I remember at first thinking, Lord, why here? There are so many mature Christians here to help these children, why me? But again He had lessons to teach me. Where was my commitment? ln Vietnam to the mission, to the Rade? No, it was to the Lord Jesus Christ! And if He closed the door to Vietnam and to those dear people I had worked with, He had a purpose.
There were people to reach right here in Penang, Malaysia! (Dalat School had been relocated in Penang in 1971.) Yes, there were many opportunities for ministry! Not just to students, but the workers there at the school needed to see his love too. I was able to have a Bible study with all the lady workers.
God made another opening available to me in the local prison. It started with a French girl held for drugs and sentenced to death, but later changed to a life sentence. I was able to see more prisoners all the time. They were from Australia, Germany, Singapore, Hong Kong, England, and New Zealand. Young men and women, and even some local Chinese and Indians. Almost all were there because of drugs. Many were facing death sentences too.
My Father comforted me while I was in prison so that I could understand the needs of these dear ones. What joy to see lives changed by the power of the living God in this very place! Though behind bars, they have a freedom many on the outside do not have! Hallelujah!
When returning to Penang in June 1984 I knew God was showing me I was to stay only two years, though at the time I did not know what He had ahead for me. For some unknown reason I put my Rade Bible in with my books for Penang. You do not use Rade in Penangl I did not know why, but God did! He knew about 200 Dega people who would soon be in a refugee camp in Thailand!A year and a half later I read about them and even recognized some of the names!
The way was opened for me to go and see them in January 1986. Words cannot express the joy it was for us to meet them and discover there were a number I knew. Many of the Degas remembered me because I had been in their villages. But they were only children then and I could not recognize them. Another beautiful thing, most of the Degas were believers and they had built a little bamboo chapel where we were able to have three services in the two days we were there! lt was like being transplanted back ten years in Vietnam.
It was in that bamboo chapel that I knew I would continue to minister to these people. Yes, Lord, I’m willing, but You wilt have to open the doors! Singing Rade songs and reading tribal Scriptures all came back so easily. Teaching was a little more difficult, but He helped us! Praise Him! One young fellow said to me afterwards, ” It’s like we were lost sheep, Grandmother, but now we’re found.”
God has opened doors so quickly. It is amazing to see how He has worked for the Degas and for me too. In less that a year the Degas left Thailand, studied in the Philippines for five months and arrived here in North Carolina. I spent two months with’them in Bataan, Philippines, and am now working with the Dega people in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Only God knows how long this ministry will be, but my desire is to see these people continue in their faith and be witnesses here in the States. God has taken them through so much and they know it is only because He cared and watched over them that they survived.
Lord, help me be the help You want me to be to these dear ones. Thank You for the joy and privilege of working among the very people I had learned to love years ago in Vietnam. What a great God we have! Always faithful, He truly cares for each one of His own
What a wonderful life, lived to serve Christ! Yes, all is planned by God for His purposes.